Exhibition, Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture
Iranian Painting and Sculpture of the 1960s and '70s Many of the artists featured in Between Word and Image were first introduced to American audiences by Abby Weed Grey, the founder of the Grey Art Gallery at New York University. Mrs. Grey, a Minnesota resident, was a passionate supporter of contemporary Middle Eastern and Asian art. As part of a trip around the world in 1960, she visited Iran. Over the next thirteen years, Mrs. Grey became the single most important foreign collector of Iranian modern art and her collection, which she donated to NYU in 1975, features works by many of the leading artists. The 1960s and '70s were a time of a great artistic ferment in Iran, as elsewhere in the world. Many artists were actively exploring abstract modes of expression. Interestingly, centuries before modern artists in Europe and America turned to non-objective art, artistic traditions outside the West had eschewed realism. Beginning with Impressionism in the 1860s, avant-garde artists in Europe and America increasingly abandoned customary Western methods of representing visible reality, such as one-point perspective and the use of light and shade to create the illusion of volume. Many European and American artists turned eastward, looking to Japanese prints and Persian miniatures, as well as African sculpture, for inspiration. In the 1960s, Iranian artists were engaged in forging an aesthetic that was at once Iranian and modern. Drawing on materials and symbols in Persian culture, they infused them with new meanings. As Shiva Balaghi notes, modernity in the Iranian context was a complex field of negotiation and accommodation. Iranian modern artists were also working in an expanding institutional context. The Fine Arts Academy, which focused on architecture and painting, was established at the University of Tehran in 1940. The following year, as Allied forces occupied Iran, Reza Shah Pahlavi abdicated the throne to his young son. The period between 1941 and the 1953 coup that ousted Mohammad Mossadeq, the elected Prime Minister who nationalized the oil industry, was an era of unprecedented democracy. It was also a critical period in the development of Iranian modernism. Journals promoting modernist art and literature were published, and galleries dedicated to modern Iranian art were opened. As Fereshteh Daftari explains, during this period, some Iranian artists traveled to "Paris, Munich, or Istanbul, where they encountered a range of debates specific to the postwar era, then returned home with fragments of foreign vocabularies with which they attempted to describe local themes." In 1954, Marcos Grigorian returned to Iran from Rome, where he had studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti. Grigorian, who is included in the Grey Collection, was a key figure in the modern Iranian art scene. He opened the Galerie Esthétique, an important commercial gallery in Tehran. In 1958, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, he organized the first Tehran Biennial. Grigorian was also an influential teacher at the Fine Arts Academy, where he disseminated his enthusiasm for local popular culture, including coffee-house paintings, a type of folk art named after the locations in which they were often displayed.
evocatively referred to this trend as Spiritual Pop Art: "There is a parallel between Saqqak-khaneh and Pop Art.
. Tanavoli restated the importance of the written word as a form that is open to multiple interpretations. numerology. His imagination was fueled as well by other forms of Iranian popular culture²such as talismans that he encountered in the bazaars. its surface markings parody cuneiform inscriptions and recall the grillwork protecting Islamic religious structures. Siah Armajani. As Daftari explains. Iranian art critic Karim Emami used the word saqqakhaneh. who avidly collected his sculptures and lithographs. a bronze sculpture in the arching shapes of the Persian letters that spell out the word "nothing. and perhaps. superstition. Its lively calligraphic characters fashioned in contrasting styles and oriented in several different directions. Best known today for his architectural constructions and public sculptures. In 1972 he made Heech. Parviz Tanavoli is another of the most prominent saqqakhaneh artists and. likewise found great inspiration in coffee-house paintings. a student of Grigorian. and doors²into complex structures that blur the boundaries between art and architecture. he "established a fully developed syntax brewing a private mythology out of religion. Armajani had moved to Minnesota to attend Macalester College. Armajani draws inspiration from writings." Seeing some of Zenderoudi's paintings at the 1962 Tehran Biennial. he produced Heech Tablet." With Heech. where he taught sculpture at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a few years. like Zenderoudi. draws inspiration from both calligraphy and classical Persian poetry. Kamran Diba. to describe Zenderoudi's integration of populist themes from Iranian Shiite folk art with modern art forms. 1964. In Calligraphy." Zenderoudi's The Hand features calligraphy prominently and also references Shiite folklore. A former director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. undivided past. The following year. Tanavoli developed a friendship with Abby Grey. "Here ancient pre-Islamic inscriptions and the aura of Islamic religion are locked together in the expression of a continuous. He settled there permanently and became an American citizen. Persian inscriptions cover a white pictorial field. but it does include a selection of early calligraphic works that reveal his long-term interest in probing the links between word and image." Through the years. and reworks commonplace elements²such as walls. divination. augury. Calligraphy inhabits the gap between words' forms and their meanings.Hossein Zenderoudi. consumed in the same way as industrial products in the West. Saqqak-khaneh artists looked at the inner beliefs and popular symbols that were part of the religion and culture of Iran. which denotes a ceremonial public fountain most often found in bazaars. she invited him to visit the United States. for example. In addition to helping him establish a bronze foundry at the University of Tehran. where his uncle was a professor. Grey also initiated a meeting between Tanavoli and another Iranian artist living in Minnesota. The Grey Collection lacks examples of Armajani's large-scale installations. and textiles he saw in the Iran Bastan Museum. benches. rendering the text illegible. including those of Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mrs. windows. As Daftari notes. and coded signs. if we simplify Pop Art as an art movement which looks at the symbols and tools of a mass consumer society as a relevant and influencing cultural force. The diacritical marks that serve to differentiate Persian letters are omitted.
In 1905. picture and text. which included the formation of an 'adalatkhanah (house of justice). Internal differences amongst the revolutionaries.000 protestors gathered in the British legation. Iran was embroiled in a bifurcated struggle. By January 1906 the Muzaffar al-Din Shah Qajar agreed to their demands. The first majlis convened in October 1906 and set about the task of writing a constitution. and poetry merge into a seamless whole. On the one hand. tradesmen. The course of the Constitutional Revolution would remain rocky for some years to come. the agreement sealed Russian supremacy in the north and British supremacy in the south of Iran. there was a confrontation involving a group of clerics and their students in which a student was killed. A group of merchants. sculpture. a few days before his death. An ailing Muzaffar al-Din Shah decreed the document they produced into law in December 1906. In October 1907 the new king signed the Supplementary Fundamental Law. the Shah did not follow up on his promises. and in August 1906 he issued a decree calling for the formation of a national assembly in Iran. Situated a little over a mile from the Grey Art Gallery. Iranians struggled to maintain their national independence in the face of growing colonial pressures. in August 1907. The Shah finally relented. who then took refuge in a shrine south of Tehran.Armajani's early aesthetic experiences²steeped in modern Iranian debates concerning the proper balance of old and new. This time. and colonial interests in maintaining
.000 and 14. Together. the installation consists of a metal railing overlooking the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty. the two great powers decided to carve Iran up into spheres of influence. the governor of Tehran ordered that some sugar merchants be bastinadoed for refusing to lower their prices. A dispute over sugar prices finally sparked the first public protests of that revolution. which incorporates quotations from verses by Walt Whitman and Frank O'Hara celebrating the spirit of New York City. Finally. Despite his assurances. where architecture. leading to growing discontent and unrest. Armajani offers a nuanced vision of public space. between 12. the two documents formed the core of the Iranian Constitution. as the country was undergoing the Constitutional Revolution (1905±11).
A Brief History of 20th-Century Iran By Shiva Balaghi Colonialism and Constitutionalism: Iran at the Turn of the Century At the outset of the 20th century. demanding the formation of a majlis. a struggle was taking place within Iran's borders. Iran's geopolitical importance made it a central focus of the colonial "Great Game" between Russia and Great Britain. In this work. idea and place²helped shape his 1986 project for the World Financial Center Plaza in Battery Park City. This violent encounter led to another bast. Ultimately. Government officials dispersed the group. reluctance by the Qajar shahs to relinquish power to the national assembly. At the same time. and mullahs took sanctuary (bast) in a Tehran mosque. or parliament.
Iran declared itself neutral. As he undertook various development projects. The majlis refused. and Russia. The young Shah visited the United States. the last Qajar shah named Reza Khan as prime minister and then traveled to Europe to seek medical attention. which were historically the domain of the clergy. Using the army as his primary instrument. he was forced to abdicate his throne. With Iran under virtual occupation by Allied forces. In 1921 Reza Khan led a group of soldiers into Tehran. linking the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea. with the outbreak of World War II."2 By 1941. was perceived as problematic by the Allies. Throughout the 19th century. with the support of England. Other intellectuals and activists fled Iran. Reza Khan assumed the position of Shah and established the Pahlavi Dynasty. but by the time Reza Shah came to power.control over key aspects of governance severely hampered Iran's first experience of democratization. Its economy was shattered. the Persian Gulf and Iran's vast oil resources became critical for the success of the British Navy. Reza Shah also consolidated his own power. meeting with US officials and addressing the United Nations. He demanded that the cabinet be dissolved and that the failing Qajar shah appoint him commander of the military. Russia continued to occupy regions of northern Iran. The Qajar dynasty. and the country suffered from a growing power vacuum. The cornerstone of Reza Shah's economic reforms was the TransIranian Railroad. never to return. Allied forces occupied much of the country. the British and the Russians had vied for concessions to build railroads across Iran. and Russian troops entered northern Iran. construction was completed in 1938. Reza Shah would die in exile in 1944. After the end of World War II. and his young son. which had ruled Iran since 1785. the second majlis was dissolved. Shortly thereafter. The Reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was twenty-two years old when he assumed his position as the Shah of Iran. Reza Shah also initiated reforms in the areas of education and law. Under
. and hundreds of schools were built. they brutally killed some of the leading constitutionalists. The project was financed largely through taxes on sugar and tea. In 1934. By the Fall of 1911. the people of Iran "had been denied all share in political and social activities. matters came to a head. In 1923. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.1 Though the parliament and the constitution were retained as Iran emerged from its first revolution of the 20th century. but Reza Shah. the University of Tehran was established. Reza Khan sought to restore a sense of national unity within Iran's borders. no national rail system existed. The Rise of the Pahlavi Dynasty World War I found Iran in difficult straits. who had established strong cultural and technological ties with Germany. Compulsory education for all Iranians was decreed. Under threat of foreign occupation of Iran. the spirit of constitutionalism was dealt a serious blow. Russian troops stormed the majlis. was deposed in 1925. gave the majlis an ultimatum that would essentially nullify Iran's independence. was crowned as the new king.
and the formation of a Literacy Corps to eradicate illiteracy in rural areas. as Iran emerged from the political unrest of the 1950s. In 1949. To many Iranians. On February 1. a program that included land reform. the Shah announced his White Revolution. which toppled Mossadeq from power. opposing the Shah and the White Revolution. For many Iranians. Mossadeq became a nationalist leader. Towards the end of the ten nights. the USSR withdrew from Iranian territory. demanding an end to censorship. Mohammad Mossadeq formed the National Front Party. a profit-sharing plan for industrial workers.3 Discontent with government policies was spreading through various segments of Iranian society. The White Revolution also granted Iranian women the right to vote. Mossadeq followed through on his plans to nationalize the oil industry. calling on his government to comply fully with the 1906 Constitution. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi left Iran. and improved women's legal rights in divorce and child custody matters. The 1940s saw a resurgence in parliamentarism in Iran. major demonstrations became increasingly common in Iran's major cities. increased women's minimum legal marriage age to 18. the writers and some students took to the streets. Mossadeq became a symbol of yet another moment in history when foreign intervention played a pivotal role in thwarting a democratic movement in Iran. 4 On January 16. with the aim of upholding the 1906 Constitution. and the National Iranian Oil Company was formed. To some Western leaders with economic interests in the Middle East. with which the regime spearheaded major development programs. his actions set an unwelcome precedent. In 1952 Mossadeq was named Time magazine's Man of the Year. Khomeini's activities eventually led to his exile to Iraq in 1964.G. In 1953 the British MI-6 and the CIA undertook Operation Ajax. One of the main goals of the National Front was to nationalize Iran's oil industry. the sale of state-owned enterprises to the private sector. Benjamin. the Ayatollah Khomeini returned. Meanwhile. 1963 uprising.pressure. the nationalization of forests. the first American minister to the Persian court. the British continued to control most of Iran's oil revenue through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. S. the authorities quelled resistance among the religious students in a seminary in the city of Qum.W. and a number of students lost their lives. In 1976. the Shah appointed Mossadeq as prime minister. In 1963. its economy was in tatters. The oil boom of the 1970s ushered in an influx of petro-dollars. By the winter of 1978. 1979. in particular Ayatollah Khomeini. traveled to Tehran and reported his impressions to the US Secretary of State:
. Khomeini led the June 5. In 1951. In the course of this uprising. leading members of the National Front published an open letter to the Shah. In the Fall of 1977 the Iranian Writers' Association organized a series of poetry readings at the Goethe Institute in Tehran known as "Dah Shab" or Ten Nights. These reforms were opposed by some of Iran's clergy. The accelerated rate of development exacerbated unequal distribution of wealth and led to a variety of social problems in Iran. 1979. Alternative Histories of Modern Iran In the summer of 1883.
as quoted in "The Pahlavi Autocracy: Riza Shah." Cambridge History of Iran. 1989). Calcutta. Qajar Iran and the Rise of Reza Khan. 1848±1922. Nikki Keddie and Mehrdad Amanat. 1921±41. 4 For a detailed chronology of the Revolution. a European carriage maker. 7 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. and contested.: Rutgers University Press.No city in the east after Canton. and public squares besides other evidences of a progressive tendency. a corps of foreign instructors of the army. 2 Ann Lambton. Neither looked for the underpinnings of modernity in the Iranian cultural sphere.
Notes 1 For a more complete history of the Persian Revolution see E. Urban Marginality and Politics (New York: New York University Press. 243. The truncated narrative of 20th-century Iranian history presented in this essay highlights major events and political actors.5 In 1975. international banks next to 6 a Persian Wimpy stand. American feminist Betty Friedan chronicled her first impressions of the city: My first few days in Tehran were strictly caviar and jet lag and a sense of being strangely at home. a steam engine at the arsenal. and Constantinople surpasses it in appearance of vitality. 1966). Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution (New Brunswick." Both Benjamin and Friedan focused on the material manifestations of progress and equated that progress with things European or American. Nikazemerad." Cambridge History of Iran. all imported. see Nicholas M. a Middle Eastern city.J. 7 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. a hose in the public garden imported from the United States. "Iran Under the Late Qajars.: Mazda Press. N. how political currents were shaped by individuals. Tehran. 1796±1925 (Costa Mesa. where modernity was actively constructed. seems like an American Western boom town²buildings going up overnight." Iranian Studies (1980): 327±68. 1999). a European cabinet maker and upholsterer. see Farhad Kazemi. p. Benjamin suggested that the prevalence of European objects throughout Tehran held a certain promise of progressive change. textured explanation of how these events were experienced. 174±212. v. "A Chronological Survey of the Iranian Revolution. The visual arts can offer alternative narratives of Iranian history. Bombay. G. Friedan described the results of this promise²Tehran had become "an American Western boom town. 1991).
. 1991). debated. a mint formed on [a] European system. Mangol Bayat. Browne. Teheran also contains a European bakery. gas in the grounds surrounding the palace. It does not provide a nuanced. Nearly a century later. The Persian Revolution of 1905±1909 (London: Frank Cass. 3 For discussions of the social implications of accelerated development. Iran's First Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press. The number of carriages owned by Persian and European gentlemen is nearly 500. The work on display in Between Word and Image provides important insights into Iranian modernity in the critical decades of the 1960s and '70s. 1991). Poverty and Revolution in Iran: The Migrant Poor. v. and Nikki Keddie. several town clocks. 1980) and Misagh Parsa. Near the end of the 19th century. and no beggars. Calif. pp. reprinted edition.
Munich. under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. The period between 1941 and the 1953 coup that ousted Mohammad Mossadeq. Many European and American artists turned eastward. Mrs. As part of a trip around the world in 1960. Grey. Marcos Grigorian returned to Iran from Rome. where they encountered a range of debates specific to the postwar era. was established at the University of Tehran in 1940. Many artists were actively exploring abstract modes of expression. In 1958. He opened the Galerie Esthétique. was a key figure in the modern Iranian art scene. was a passionate supporter of contemporary Middle Eastern and Asian art. Grigorian. Grey became the single most important foreign collector of Iranian modern art and her collection. Grigorian was also an influential teacher at the Fine Arts Academy. As Fereshteh Daftari explains. she visited Iran. 98. features works by many of the leading artists. they infused them with new meanings. "Coming Out of the Veil. artistic traditions outside the West had eschewed realism. Journals promoting modernist art and literature were published. for inspiration. Tehran. avant-garde artists in Europe and America increasingly abandoned customary Western methods of representing visible reality. October 2. which focused on architecture and painting. Over the next thirteen years. Iranian modern artists were also working in an expanding institutional context.
Iranian Painting and Sculpture of the 1960s and '70s Many of the artists featured in Between Word and Image were first introduced to American audiences by Abby Weed Grey. 1883. as Allied forces occupied Iran. an important commercial gallery in Tehran.5 Benjamin to Frelinghuysen. Diplomatic Series no. then returned home with fragments of foreign vocabularies with which they attempted to describe local themes. United States National Archives. such as one-point perspective and the use of light and shade to create the illusion of volume. 6 Betty Friedan. It was also a critical period in the development of Iranian modernism. he organized the first Tehran Biennial. who is included in the Grey Collection. Mrs." Ladies Home Journal (June 1975). which she donated to NYU in 1975. Iranian artists were engaged in forging an aesthetic that was at once Iranian and modern. the elected Prime Minister who nationalized the oil industry. the founder of the Grey Art Gallery at New York University. Drawing on materials and symbols in Persian culture. In the 1960s. some Iranian artists traveled to "Paris. during this period. Reza Shah Pahlavi abdicated the throne to his young son. Interestingly." In 1954. was an era of unprecedented democracy. where he had studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti. p. a Minnesota resident. looking to Japanese prints and Persian miniatures. as elsewhere in the world. As Shiva Balaghi notes. The Fine Arts Academy. where he disseminated his
. modernity in the Iranian context was a complex field of negotiation and accommodation. Despatches from United States Ministers to Persia. or Istanbul. and galleries dedicated to modern Iranian art were opened. 28. centuries before modern artists in Europe and America turned to non-objective art. Beginning with Impressionism in the 1860s. as well as African sculpture. The following year. The 1960s and '70s were a time of a great artistic ferment in Iran.
she invited him to visit the United States. Kamran Diba. draws inspiration from both calligraphy and classical Persian poetry. Parviz Tanavoli is another of the most prominent saqqakhaneh artists and. likewise found great inspiration in coffee-house paintings. Persian inscriptions cover a white pictorial field. including those of Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. and perhaps. He settled there permanently and became an American citizen. which denotes a ceremonial public fountain most often found in bazaars. where his uncle was a professor. Tanavoli developed a friendship with Abby Grey. Armajani draws inspiration from writings. Tanavoli restated the importance of the written word as a form that is open to multiple interpretations. His imagination was fueled as well by other forms of Iranian popular culture²such as talismans that he encountered in the bazaars." Through the years. undivided past. Saqqak-khaneh artists looked at the inner beliefs and popular symbols that were part of the religion and culture of Iran. numerology. evocatively referred to this trend as Spiritual Pop Art: "There is a parallel between Saqqak-khaneh and Pop Art. "Here ancient pre-Islamic inscriptions and the aura of Islamic religion are locked together in the expression of a continuous. and textiles he saw in the Iran Bastan Museum. divination. Its lively calligraphic characters fashioned in contrasting styles and
. but it does include a selection of early calligraphic works that reveal his long-term interest in probing the links between word and image. windows. where he taught sculpture at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a few years. Grey also initiated a meeting between Tanavoli and another Iranian artist living in Minnesota. a type of folk art named after the locations in which they were often displayed. and doors²into complex structures that blur the boundaries between art and architecture. a student of Grigorian. The Grey Collection lacks examples of Armajani's large-scale installations. 1964. The following year. consumed in the same way as industrial products in the West. benches. superstition. to describe Zenderoudi's integration of populist themes from Iranian Shiite folk art with modern art forms. rendering the text illegible. A former director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art." Zenderoudi's The Hand features calligraphy prominently and also references Shiite folklore. and coded signs. Best known today for his architectural constructions and public sculptures." With Heech. In addition to helping him establish a bronze foundry at the University of Tehran.enthusiasm for local popular culture. for example. augury. Iranian art critic Karim Emami used the word saqqakhaneh. As Daftari notes. he "established a fully developed syntax brewing a private mythology out of religion. Siah Armajani. In 1972 he made Heech. and reworks commonplace elements²such as walls. As Daftari explains. its surface markings parody cuneiform inscriptions and recall the grillwork protecting Islamic religious structures. Armajani had moved to Minnesota to attend Macalester College. In Calligraphy. Mrs." Seeing some of Zenderoudi's paintings at the 1962 Tehran Biennial. if we simplify Pop Art as an art movement which looks at the symbols and tools of a mass consumer society as a relevant and influencing cultural force. he produced Heech Tablet. a bronze sculpture in the arching shapes of the Persian letters that spell out the word "nothing. The diacritical marks that serve to differentiate Persian letters are omitted. like Zenderoudi. who avidly collected his sculptures and lithographs. including coffee-house paintings. Hossein Zenderoudi.
graphics.oriented in several different directions. such as the politicization of Islam and the 1979 Revolution. calligraphy. two decades which saw dramatic changes. Iranian modern artists grappled with questions of how to reconcile their contemporary sensibilities with their Iranian heritage. Between Word and Image presents over 100 rarely exhibited works²fine art.
"Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture"on view at NYU September 18±December 7. Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture examines three discrete but interrelated aspects of Iranian art of the 1960s and 1970s. sculpture. Armajani offers a nuanced vision of public space. sculptures. 2002. The exhibition concludes with a selection of revolutionary posters by both professional and amateur artists who merged calligraphy. 2002«A groundbreaking exhibition. July 1. Introducing American audiences to modern Iranian art. photographs.
. and miniature paintings. revolutionary posters. Armajani's early aesthetic experiences²steeped in modern Iranian debates concerning the proper balance of old and new. where architecture. the installation consists of a metal railing overlooking the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty. POSTERS. 2002 New York City. and black-and-white photographs²and is on view at NYU from September 18 to December 7. and posters² furnish an important opportunity to rethink the notion of modernism in a non-Western culture. Between Word and Image also sheds light on the many ways that visual culture both reflected and affected the 1960s and 1970s. the dominant form of Islam in Iran. These three elements²art. Also exhibited are 34 striking black-and-white photographs from the 1970s by Abbas. an Iranian photojournalist living in Paris and a member of Magnum Photos. which incorporates quotations from verses by Walt Whitman and Frank O'Hara celebrating the spirit of New York City. idea and place²helped shape his 1986 project for the World Financial Center Plaza in Battery Park City. Situated a little over a mile from the Grey Art Gallery. In this work. Calligraphy inhabits the gap between words' forms and their meanings. and poetry merge into a seamless whole. they also appropriated images of Shiism.
Press released GREY ART GALLERY FEATURES IRANIAN AND PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE 1960s AND 1970s ART. Co-organized by New York University's Grey Art Gallery and Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. picture and text. and works on paper from the Grey Art Gallery's unparalleled collection of modern Iranian art. The first section of Between Word and Image features approximately 30 paintings. the world-renowned collective. and rhetoric in order to convey abstract ideologies. Inspired by classical Persian poetry. Adopting an increasingly social role.
In addition to featuring the Grey's holdings of Iranian art. by sculptor Parviz Tanavoli. "The construction of modernity in Iran was an act of resistance and creation. The show at the Grey juxtaposes excerpts from Abbas's diaries with his photographs. and red (significant in Islam). but they develop a more textured meaning when taken together as a single art form. As in Heech. the abstract forms simultaneously constitute both word and image. Abbas views his writing as an integral part of the process of making pictures. Composed of bold forms and intense colors. these posters were ubiquitous throughout Tehran during the uprising. One visit coincided with the outbreak of the Revolution. often defacing public monuments built by the Pahlavi regime as symbols of its authority and grandeur. and Hossein Zenderoudi." "The arts serve as a testament to creativity as well as a historical record of upheaval and crisis. Sealed Letter. Some have become iconic images. In this sense. As Balaghi notes. The second section of the exhibition features photographs by Abbas that provide critical information about Iran in 1970s. Iran's visual culture of this period is an archival record of the social and political problems that were emerging. black. "Between Word and Image allows us to learn more about modern Persian art and to begin to understand how a country that was heralded as a paragon of universal modernization underwent an Islamic Revolution whose message was steeped in localized imagery demanding an idealized return to the past. Associate Director of the Kevorkian Center. providing startling and vivid views of Tehran and its citizens caught up in the throes of a whirlwind. Abbas took hundreds of photographs. recalling the Persian tradition of illuminated manuscripts. Iranian visual artists began to appropriate the traditional role of the poet as Iranian society's conscious and allseeing critic. it serves as the artistic pre-history to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. In the 1960s and 1970s. Made between 1978 and 1980. links calligraphy with the highly revered tradition of Persian poetry as a form of social critique. who now lives in Minneapolis. Parviz Tanavoli. Abbas's words and his pictures can stand alone.Shiva Balaghi. An avid diarist." notes Lynn Gumpert. One work. Director of the Grey Art Gallery. choreographed street demonstrations and also covered the many walls of Iran's cities. It entailed seeking out new ways in which the arts could engage social and political concerns." Finally. Between 1978 and 1980." The modern Iranian works housed at the Grey Art Gallery²part of the Abby Weed Grey Collection of Asian and Middle Eastern Art²comprise the largest public holding of Iranian modern art outside of Iran. a 1964 drawing by the noted large-scale public sculptor Siah Armajani. protesters would replace them
. As government agents tore them off or covered them with paint. the Iranian revolutionary posters shown in Between Word and Image offer another fascinating glimpse into modern Iranian visual culture. when he returned to his native country to produce a photo-essay examining the social and economic changes brought on by the country's rapidly expanding oil industry. they were used as props in mass. and usually incorporating calligraphy. the show includes several key works lent by New York's Museum of Modern Art. "As in that tradition. the collection includes major early works by the most prominent Iranian artists such as Siah Armajani. Amassed by Abby Grey on numerous trips to the Middle East and Asia in the 1960s and 1970s to promote artistic exchange. 1972. such as red (identified with Marxist liberation movements) or green. observes.
and the Grey Art Gallery's Abby Weed Grey Trust. Both nationalist and internationalist.´ recalled Parviz Tanavoli. but formal issues were not its primary problems: the fundamental questions addressed by Iranian modernism had to do with the notion of identity." Between Word and Image was co-curated by Lynn Gumpert and Fereshteh Daftari in consultation with Shiva Balaghi. was not synonymous with the one constructed in the West. the Reed Foundation. above the
. an icon of classical Persian literature. observes. the Soudavar Memorial Foundation.
Abby Weed Grey and Parviz Tanavoli By Shiva Balaghi ³People moving along Tehran¶s Pahlavi Avenue (now renamed Vali-µAsr Avenue) in 1960. whose portraits of the Shah and the Queen hung in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. an anonymous artist juxtaposes a black-and-white silkscreened portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeini against an abstract.with replenished supplies. the raised arms of defiant militants merge with calligraphy proclaiming a defiant slogan. ³would have seen a gigantic sculpture on the balcony of one of the apartments that overlooked the street. reportage. In art its languages included realism and abstraction. In another. Peter Chelkowski. and Student Affairs. a co-curator of the exhibition. The deer¶s antlers were made of a bicycle¶s form. "Iranian modernism. it looked inward as well as outward. brightly colored background. Many of the posters allude to battle scenes from the Koran or classical Persian poetry. like many of the culturally specific modernisms that emerged around the globe. "There is only one God. In one image. Sponsorship Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture has been made possible. the Hagop Kevorkian Center's grant from the Ford Foundation's Crossing Borders program. Constructed from scrap metal. and Haggai Ram. The project also received funding from New York University's Offices of the Provost. by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation. Still others collaged newspaper images by photojournalists such as Abbas. the Iran Heritage Foundation. this assemblage depicted a man embracing a deer. clearly referencing the work of American Pop artist Andy Warhol. and politics became enmeshed in a distinct form of visual culture. in part. poetry. the man and animal bodies of fenders and other parts of junkyard vehicles." against a vivid red background that both signals bloodshed and alludes to the red tulip. Academic and Health Affairs. and the Flora Family Foundation. Here art. A little below this sculpture. As Fereshteh Daftari.
and Tanavoli. Named for the public structures where water is available to passers-by. ink and gilt on paper. a gathering place for poets. he collected talismans. foundries. Kamran Diba. 39 x 27 1/4 inches (99.´(3) Parviz Tanavoli.entrance. one. Tanavoli organized small exhibitions of his new works and those by other young artists such as Hossein Zenderoudi. holding a mallet. saw an affinity between Saqqakhaneh art and Pop art: ³«if we simplify Pop Art as an art movement which looks at the symbols and tools of a mass consumer society as a relevant and influencing cultural force. the other a legendary sculptor.´(1) At the Atelier Kaboud. He scoured South Tehran¶s pottery workshops. this school looked inward to local cultural practices. ³art is in every aspect of life. ³In our culture. posters with religious inscriptions. integrating images. was the perfect background for the work: bold abstract paintings. former director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. painters. In June 1961. and gilt whose subject was intriguing. For me it went right back to Arabian Nights.1 x 69. Myth.´ It was here that she was first introduced to Parviz Tanavoli. Sohrab Sepehri. and street vendors. architects and filmmakers. ³The work.´ she wrote in her diary. Saqqak-khaneh artists looked at the inner beliefs and popular symbols that were part of the religion and culture of Iran. the apprentice. 1961 gouache. forms. wings open. I felt I had to have it and purchased it on the spot. blacksmith and welder¶s shops. and paintings. ³I kept returning to a large painting in ink gouache. its vaulted ceilings and elegant lighting. Sirak Melkanian. ³Viewers came in droves. locks. themes. She remarked on the exhibition at Bank Saderat in her diary: ³The architectural setting with its polished marble floor and marble walls.2 cm) Grey Art Gallery New York University Art Collection
. depicted three figures. The next day. collages in wild and exciting colors. He also studied the architecture of Shiite devotional spaces²the saqqakhaneh and emamzadeh²fountains and shrines. which was called Myth.(2) Amongst the crowd was Abby Weed Grey. the collective organized an exhibition of their work in Bank Saderat. and found objects into his sculptures. she purchased her first piece by Tanavoli.´ That day. Farhad.´ The neighborhood surrounding the studio fed Tanavoli¶s artistic imagination.´ When not making art. This was my first studio. hung a small sign that bore the name µAtelier Kaboud¶ in both Persian and Latin Letters.´ Tanavoli explained to me. Grey made her way to Atelier Kaboud. and carpets. consumed in the same ways as industrial products in the West. ceramics. Protecting both was a gold and blue angel. It was then that Tanavoli began to help formulate the Saqqakhaneh school. Manuchehr Shaybani. a space she felt ³glowed with the brilliant colors and vitality of his work. But of course it was a Persian tale. who was in Tehran for an exhibition of Minnesotan artists she had organized at the Iran-America Society. These gatherings provided the genesis for an artists¶ group known as Contemporary Artists²Marcos Grigorian. modernist metal sculptures and ceramics.´ Tanavoli remembers. Bijan Saffari. and perhaps.
helped Grey become familiar with some of the most notable contemporary artists in Iran in the 1960s and ¶70s. Tanavoli taught at the University of Tehran. I took her to artists¶ studios and art galleries. Tanavoli arrived in Minneapolis. and helped organize a seminar on contemporary Iranian art at the Iran-America society. a box construction in which from the inside two plaster hands clasped a crisscrossed lattice grille. in turn. she loved to converse with artists. The artist Marcos Grigorian. I filled her in as much as I could. who had been living in New York. She liked me like her son. also moved to Minneapolis around this time.´ Tanavoli explained. She had just begun collecting art and was very eager to learn about Iranian art and culture. Tanavoli.´ A close friendship developed between the two artists²with Tanavoli helping Armajani keep apace of artistic developments in Iran. The show was closed within a few days. This is such deeply involved symbolism that it must not be read as representing repression (hands extending through the bars of a prison cell). Grigorian.´ he explains. During those regular teas.70 Abby Grey would become an avid collector and devoted mentor to Tanavoli. ³Mrs. Returning to Minnesota after her initial meeting with Tanavoli. caused ³considerable hostile clamor´ as Grey recalled. and sculptures. which forms the basis of the Grey Art Gallery¶s collection of modern Iranian art. Grey helped Tanavoli establish a bronze foundry at the University of Tehran. ceramics. fluorescent lights and basic electric equipment. bears the mark of their close relationship. The works. Her collection. G1975. Indeed. which were exhibited at the Borghese Gallery in 1965. Tanavoli¶s art reflected a synthesis: ³I made use of traditional material such as copper vessels. Grey¶s home and Grigorian¶s gallery became centers for Iranian art in Minneapolis. drawings. In February 1962. she came to see me every year. ³After I returned to Iran. She not only bought art. and prints. Rather it represents the hands of a suppliant at a prayer grille. ³When I went to Minneapolis.Gift of Abby Weed Grey. and Tanavoli writes. the Universal Galleries mounted an exhibition that included works by Armajani. Tanavoli returned to Tehran.´ The piece that Grey purchased from the exhibition remains in the Grey Art Gallery¶s collection: ³I had chosen Hands of a Poet. ³I saw Abby nearly every day. ³To alleviate my loneliness and ease my transition during a severe. During these years. rugs and calligraphy. In 1963. Grey helped arrange a residency for him at the Minneapolis School of Art. to jewelry. who. it contains one of the most significant extant collections of Tanavoli¶s oeuvre²nearly 80 works ranging from paintings.´
. He opened the Universal Galleries. along with such Western imports as plastics.´ Tanavoli told me. and Zenderoudi.´ After two and a half years of teaching and making art in Minneapolis. and all that is left to me is a series of vague recollections. snowy winter. ³Over the years most of those paintings and sculptures have been destroyed.´ In 1964. The bond between Grey and Tanavoli grew. set up a workshop. Grey had arranged for a room for me in [Siah] Armajani¶s house.
the bronze is covered with stylus markings mimicking cuneiform script that form an outline of the word heech. G1975.´
. scholar. Grey acquired her most substantial work by Tanavoli. Farhad holds a nightingale. to bronze statues. Heech Tablet (1973). to large sculptures made of fiberglass. Oh! Nightingale (design for rug).616 Ironically. and rugs has resulted in a series of publications and exhibitions based on his collections. Hands of a Poet. during her last trip to Iran in 1973 on the occasion of a special exhibition of his sculptures on the heech theme. The composition centers on Farhad²the poetic sculptor who is Tanavoli¶s mythic muse²here rendered in a robotic style.(4) Tanavoli also created rugs himself. 1966 painted wood and plaster construction 47 3/4 x 32 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (121. and artist. Standing nearly seven feet high on its travertine stone base. The work draws on Tanavoli¶s interest in ancient Persian civilization and in the quotidian culture of folk Islam. but rather nothing which brimmed with life itself.´ and through the years. ³The sculpture appeared monumental. The markings also recall the lattice grillwork of shrines from which devotees have hung locks. kohl containers. 1974 silkscreen on paper. ³are so interwoven. In his hand.´ His intimate knowledge of locks. and the Grey¶s collection includes a print. ³Mine was the nothingness of hope and friendship. Tanavoli produced a work that weds Pop art to traditional Iranian motifs. Heech is the Persian word for ³nothing. G1975. it was not life that amounted to nothing.3 x 82. New York University Art Collection Gift of Abby Weed Grey.6 x 8. Tanavoli has made numerous variations ranging from intricate jewelry.9 cm) Grey Art Gallery New York University Art Collection Gift of Abby Weed Grey.47 Tanavoli is a collector. the bird whose song Persian poets often wrote of. he explained to me. I can hardly separate them from each other. and Islamic rituals. Oh! Nightingale (1974). His face resembles grillwork from which two locks are hanging. Reworking tropes from classical Persian literature. tribal rug weaving. In 1974.Parviz Tanavoli. the Ben and Abby Grey Foundation helped sponsor a traveling exhibition of Tanavoli¶s Lion Rugs from Fars. In my mind. a nothingness that did not seek to negate.´ Grey wrote of Heech Tablet. sheet: 27 3/4 x 20 1/8 inches Grey Art Gallery. These roles. that is a design for a carpet. Parviz Tanavoli. calligraphy.
D. ed. and Collector.´ in Parviz Tanavoli: Sculptor. Quotes by Tanavoli in this essay are from this article and from correspondence with the author.0 x 30. 1973 bronze on travertine stone base 71 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 11 7/8 inches (181. 1989). 2000).C. G1975. David Galloway (Tehran: Iranian Art Publishing.
. Widjan Ali (London: Scorpion Press. Heech Tablet. Writer. Abby Weed Grey. the exhibition traveled as part of the Smithsonian Institution¶s Traveling Exhibition Service to the Paine Art Center in Wisconsin. 4 Between 1974 and 1975..570 NOTES 1 Kameran Diba. and the Grey Art Gallery at NYU. ³Iran. 53-113. ³Atelier Kaboud. 2 Tanavoli has written eloquently about his early career as an artist in his essay. 153. 1983). the Window is the Picture (NY: New York University Press. ed. pp.Parviz Tanavoli. p. The Picture is the Window. 3 Citations from Abby Grey¶s diary are taken from her memoir. the Textile Museum in Washington.6 x 47.2 cm) (including integral base) Grey Art Gallery New York University Art Collection Gift of Abby Weed Grey.´ in Contemoprary Art from the Islamic World.